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December 14, 2011, Wednesday

D-forum of the Alliance of Civilizations

This weekend I joined the fourth Forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) held in Doha, Qatar. The forum was a step further for Qatar to becoming a global actor in world politics.

On the same days Doha was also hosting the Arab Games 2011 and several other international events. Despite several defects in the management, the overall organization of the forum was a success for the Qatari authorities. Roughly 2,500 visitors came to Doha for three days and dozens of parallel sessions were held at the Qatar National Convention Center.

The forum started with two surprises: Both the founding fathers of the alliance, former Prime Minister of Spain Jose L. R. Zapatero and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan were not able to join the forum. On the other hand, the forum saw joint sessions between the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the UNAOC Secretariat, while a high level of participation from Africa was also seen at the forum. At the opening session the Turkish prime minister addressed the participants through a previously recorded speech. His speech was given a standing ovation four times. He may have done more with his absence than what he would have done with his presence.

The fourth UNAOC Forum was organized with the aim of combining the existential targets of the UNAOC with the Millennium Development Goals set by the UN. Hence, the topics of the sessions were centered on how to use dialogue, diversity and intercultural activities in development. The high representative of the alliance, Jorge Sampaio, said that this was “the ‘D' forum. D for diversity, dialogue, development, human dignity and democracy and D of course Doha.”

The D-forum proposed a new kind of social contract bringing together the responsible citizens of the world in order to turn diversity into an asset for development. In the words of Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, the alliance promised a venue to come together and speak about a “positive climate change.” This positive climate change refers to the perception of the problems -- or the roots of the problems -- as opportunities and sources of richness.

Doha is in itself a symbol of turning perceptions upside down. Once a remote peninsula made of an unhealthy marriage of water, rocks and sand, Doha has been turned into a financial center in the Gulf region. Traditionally known for its consumption economy, Qatar has been trying to jump to a knowledge economy. It has not yet been fully successful. Not all of the fanciful Manhattan-style buildings are full, but the future seems bright. Doha, in that sense, was the perfect venue for the forum.

One particular position underlined several times during the forum was the lack of culture-related international policies, standards and agreements. Professor Andreas J. Wiesand, the executive director of the European Institute for Comparative Cultural Research (ERICarts) suggested that just like the disaster prevention mechanisms and cooperation principles set for natural and man-made disasters, there should be mechanisms to fight cultural disasters. One particular cultural disaster is cultural illiteracy. Irina Bokova, the director-general of UNESCO, underlined that despite the rising levels of literacy and numeracy in the traditional sense, the level of cultural literacy is not increasing at all. In an era of communication and globalization, we are becoming more and more ignorant of the cultures of others.

The fifth Forum of the UNAOC will be held next year in one of the culture capitals of Europe, Vienna. Let's all hope that the world will be closer to the Millennium Development Goals then and that the world will be a D-world, where development does not endanger human diversity or dignity. 

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